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International Journal of Forensic Psychology

Copyright 2006

Volume 1, No. 3 SEPTEMBER 2006 pp. 69-83

Dissociation and Amnesia: A Study with Male Offenders

Barry S. Cooper.1+; Carrie Cuttler.2; Paul Dell.3; and John C. Yuille.4


1
Department of Psychology, Matsqui Institution, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC); 2
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada; 3 Trauma
Recovery Center, Norfolk, Virginia, USA; 4 Paul Ekman Group-Training Division, Salt Spring
Island, BC, Canada.

Abstract

Offenders often claim to have committed their crimes in a dissociative state and some
allege amnesia for their criminal actions. Although much research has examined
dissociative and related phenomena, such as amnesia, in victims and witnesses to
traumatic and criminal events, little research has investigated dissociation in incarcerated
offenders, particularly in relation to their offences. The present study used the
Peritraumatic Dissociative Experiences Questionnaire (PDEQ), the Dissociative
Experiences Scale (DES), and the Multidimensional Inventory of Dissociation (MID) to
examine a number of issues concerning dissociative and related phenomena in
incarcerated male offenders. Thirty-four percent of the sample reported amnesia for their
most recent criminal offence. Among other results, participants reports of state
dissociation at the time of their criminal offences were associated with trait dissociation
and amnesia for their offences. However, the reported mean state dissociation was not
particularly elevated during the offences. Implications for cognitive and correctional
psychology are discussed.

Keywords: Dissociation; amnesia; offenders; correctional psychology

INTRODUCTION

In a recent capital murder case, the defendant was during the homicide. Based on these inventories
found guilty of beating his wife to death (State of and a comprehensive clinical evaluation, the
Washington vs. Waldradt, 2000). The defendant psychologist subsequently testified that the man
claimed he committed the murderous act of had experienced valid symptoms of dissociation at
violence in an altered, dissociative state of the time of his offence and that his claim of partial
consciousness and that he was amnestic for parts of amnesia was credible. The court concluded the
the violence. He reported experiencing symptoms defendant murdered his wife in a state of
of dissociation such as detachment, emotional diminished capacity. Although the defendant was
numbing, and altered time perception during the found guilty and was sentenced to life
murder. With the assistance of the first author, a imprisonment, he was spared the death penalty.
psychologist used a series of psychometric It is not uncommon for expert witnesses to
inventories to assess whether the defendant address the constructs of dissociation and amnesia
experienced dissociation earlier in his life and during criminal trials. As with many cases, the

+
Address for correspondence: Barry S. Cooper, Ph.D., Paul Ekman Group, Training Division, P.O. Box 600, Salt
Spring Island, BC, Canada, V8K 2W2; Email: CooperBS@CSC-SCC.GC.CA
Cooper, B.S., Cuttler, C., Dell, P., and Yuille, J.C.

validity of reports of dissociative phenomena, and The construct of dissociation has a rich clinical
related psychological constructs such as amnesia, history stemming from Pierre Janets classic studies
are primary issues affecting legal decisions (Cima, on hysteria (Janet, 1920). As he discussed over a
Merckelbach, Nijman, Knauer, & Hollnack, 2002; century ago, psychological trauma can cause a
Porter, Birt, Yuille, & Herv, 2001; Porter, variety of acute and chronic psychological after
Campbell, Birt, & Woodworth, 2003). Although a effects (Foa & Hearst-Ikeda, 1996; Gershuny &
large body of research has examined dissociative Thayer, 1999; Kihlstrom, Glisky, & Angiulo, 1994;
phenomena in victims and witnesses to crime and van der Kolk, 1996; van der Kolk & van der Hart,
trauma (Cooper, Kennedy, & Yuille, 2001; 1989). In contemporary nomenclature, many of
Mechanic, Resick, & Griffin, 1998; Spiegel & these psychological consequences are classified
Cardea, 1991), curiously, little research has under the rubric of dissociation (American
examined dissociation in perpetrators of crime. Psychological Association [APA], 2000). In terms
Indeed, as of 2003, only 10 empirical studies on of acute reactions to trauma, some individuals
dissociative phenomena in incarcerated samples experience state dissociative alterations of
had been published (Dietrich, 2003) and only a consciousness (Candel & Merckelbach, 2004). For
handful have since been completed. As a result of example, a person who dissociates during an event
this relative dearth of research, when perpetrators may experience state symptoms of dissociation
present with dissociative and related phenomena, such as depersonalization (I dont feel connected
expert psychologists, in an attempt to educate the to myself) and/or derealization (this just doesnt
triers of fact, often generalize the research on seem real; Marmar et al., 1994). Other forms of
dissociation in victims and witnesses to the state dissociation include alterations in sense of
perpetrator context. Although it is logical to assume time and out of body experiences, during which
that many of the strong associations apparent in the the person observes what is happening to
victim and witness literature would hold true with him/herself from a vantage point outside the body
perpetrators of crime (e.g., the association between (Cooper, Yuille, & Kennedy, 2002; Yuille &
state and trait dissociation; the association between Daylen, 1998).
dissociation and amnesia), little research has State dissociation is often viewed as a defensive
addressed the validity of these generalizations. This reaction that blunts the acute psychological impact
lack of research formed the impetus for the present of a stressful experience (Chu, 1998; Spiegel,
investigation. This study was designed to examine a 1993). However, chronic dissociation is often
number of issues that have both theoretical and related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
practical importance concerning dissociative and dissociative disorders (Spiegel & Cardea, 1991),
related phenomena in offenders. The primary and/or dissociative amnesia (Mechanic et al., 1998).
objectives were: (a) to examine the rates of state Further, individuals with PTSD and/or dissociative
and trait dissociation in offenders; (b) to investigate disorders and/or amnesia often show elevated levels
the association between state and trait dissociation; of trait dissociation (Bernstein & Putman, 1986;
(c) to examine the frequency of claims of amnesia Cardea, 1994; Merckelbach & Muris, 2001;
for offences; and (d) to assess the relationship Putnam, 1993). That is, due to their prior traumatic
between dissociation and amnesia. The two experiences, some individuals dissociate in
secondary objectives were to (a) investigate the everyday life (not just during traumas; Chu & Dill,
variables associated with the field-observer 1990; Dell, 2000; Putman, 1995; Zatzick, Marmar,
perspective distinction; and (b) to examine the Weiss, & Metzler, 1994).
construct validity of a relatively new measure of
trait dissociation, the Multidimensional Inventory Dissociation and Amnesia in Victims and Witnesses
of Dissociation (MID; Dell, 2000), through its
association with the Dissociative Experiences Scale As indicated above, most research on dissociation
(DES; Bernstein-Carlson & Putnam, 1993) and the has focused on victims and witnesses to traumatic
Peritraumatic Dissociative Events Questionnaire and/or criminal events. Dissociative responses have
(PDEQ; Marmar & Weiss, 1994). been researched in relation to a wide variety of
Below is a brief review of the construct of crimes and traumas including physical and sexual
dissociation, followed by a review of the literature abuse (e.g., Chu & Dill, 1990; Darves-Bornoz,
pertaining to the dissociative and amnestic 1997; Dunmore, Clark, & Ehlers, 1999; Herman,
experiences of witnesses, victims and, to a lesser 1996; Mechanic et al., 1998; Spiegel & Cardea,
extent, perpetrators of crime. 1991), natural disasters (e.g., Koopman, Classen, &
Speigal, 1994), torture (Weisaeth, 1989), and
The Construct of Dissociation combat (e.g., Marmar et al. 1994). Most of these

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Dissociation and Amnesia

studies have shown that traumatized samples have Dissociation and Amnesia in Offenders
significantly higher levels of trait dissociation than
nontraumatized controls (Foa & Hearst-Ikeda, As opposed to the large body of research that has
1996; Gershuny & Thayer, 1999; Putman, 1995). investigated dissociative phenomena and amnesia
Researchers have also consistently demonstrated in victims and witnesses to criminal and/or
significant associations between state and trait traumatic experiences, little research has examined
dissociation in traumatized individuals. For dissociation in criminal offenders (for a review, see
example, Marmar et al. (1994) reported a modest Porteus & Taintor, 2000). This is somewhat
association (r = .41) between trait and state surprising because both theory and the extant
dissociation in Vietnam veterans who empirical evidence suggests there may be some
retrospectively rated their most threatening interesting relationships between criminal acts,
combat experience. Cooper (1999) showed a dissociation, and amnesia (Herv, Cooper, Yuille,
similar association (r = .57) between state and trait & Daylen, 2002, 2003; Porter et al., 2001). For
dissociation in a sample of prostitutes who example, many offenders claim to have dissociated
described their experiences of sexual trauma. More during the commission of their crimes (Cooper,
recently, Hunter and Andrews (2000) demonstrated Herv, Kendrick, & Yuille, 2003) and some claim
that state and trait dissociation were associated (r = amnesia for their criminal offences (Cima,
.33) in a sample of women with histories of Merckelbach, Hollnack, & Knauer, in press; Cima
childhood sexual abuse. et al., 2002; Kopelman, 1987; Leitch, 1948;
Not only have researchers reported relatively O'Connell, 1960; Parwatikar, Holcomb, &
robust correlations between state and trait Menninger, 1985; Pyszora, Barker, & Kopelman,
dissociation in traumatized samples, some 2003; Taylor & Kopelman, 1984). Furthermore,
researchers have shown that both state and trait some offenders develop PTSD as a consequence of
dissociation are at least partially related to amnesia. their criminal actions (Kruppa, Hickey, & Hubbard,
For example, Mechanic et al. (1988) demonstrated 1995; Pollock, 1999) --- and, at least with victims,
that 37% of the rape victims in their study attested there is evidence linking PTSD with state
to significant levels of amnesia for parts of the dissociative symptoms (Bernat, Ronfeldt, Calhoun,
rape (p. 952) and that the levels of state & Arias, 1998; Cardea et al., 1998; Dietrich, 2003;
dissociation reported during the rape experiences Koopman, Classen & Spiegel, 1994; Liebowitz et
were associated with such amnesia. Similarly, al., 1998; Griffin, Resick, & Mechanic, 1997).
Hunter and Andrews (2000) showed that high Thus, for some offenders, committing some types
levels of trait dissociation were associated with of crimes is traumatic (Byrne, 2003).
amnesia for abuse experiences in a sample of adult As with the victim literature, some studies with
victims of childhood sexual abuse. offenders with trauma histories have shown that
As stated above, an interesting aspect of state many offenders present with considerable levels of
dissociation is the tendency for some individuals to trait dissociation. For example, Ellason and Ross
perceive their traumatic/criminal experiences from (1999) used the DES and reported a mean trait
the perspective of an observer, as opposed to taking dissociation score of 25.4 in a sample of 13 male
the more frequently experienced field perspective sex offenders, considerably higher than the mean
(i.e., through ones own eyes; Schacter, 1996). score typically found in the general population
Commonly, when individuals take observer (e.g., 3.7 7.8; Bernstein-Carlson, & Putnam,
perspectives, they reportedly view the event and 1993). Similarly, in Dietrichs (2003) investigation
themselves from a detached viewpoint (Yuille & of 93 adult offenders, many scored higher on a
Daylen, 1998). For example in Coopers (1999) measure of trait dissociation than individuals from
study, one participant described her rape experience the general population (also see McLeod, Byrne, &
from the perspective of the light fixture on her Aitken, 2004). While it is logical to generalize from
bedroom ceiling. Unfortunately, little forensically the victim literature and assume that, as with
relevant research attention has addressed the victims, offenders reports of state dissociation
observer perspective phenomenon. In one study, during the commission of their crimes are related to
Cooper et al. (2002) asked a sample of prostitutes their levels of trait dissociation, to date, only a few
to recall three experiences: a positive experience, an studies have examined the association between
experience of sexual trauma, and an experience of state and trait dissociation in criminal offenders.
non-sexual trauma. Those who took an observer Consistent with the findings with victims, Simoneti,
perspective during their experiences reported Scott, and Murphy (2000) reported a significant
significantly higher levels of state dissociation than association (r = .44) between trait dissociation and
those who took a field perspective. violence-specific (i.e., state) dissociation in men

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Cooper, B.S., Cuttler, C., Dell, P., and Yuille, J.C.

charged with domestic abuse. A similar association manslaughter, assault), sexual (30%; e.g., sexual
(r = .38) was reported by McLeod et al. who used assault), or property (12%). The remaining three
the revised PDEQ (Marshall, Orlando, Jaycox, Foy, participants were convicted of arson, people
& Belzberg, 2002) to measure offence-specific (i.e., smuggling, and drug trafficking.
state) dissociation in a sample of 86 Australian
offenders. In terms of state dissociation and Measures
memory, McLeod et al. demonstrated that state
dissociation was negatively associated with reports Peritraumatic Dissociative Experiences
of memory for crimes. Surprisingly, few other Questionnaire (PDEQ). The first version of the
studies have used the PDEQ to assess for state PDEQ (Marmar & Weiss, 1994) is a 10-item scale
dissociation in offenders and no published studies that measures participants retrospective accounts
have applied the field-observer distinction to of state dissociative symptomatology regarding a
offenders. specified incident. With their index offence in
Clearly, there are a host of untested assumptions mind, participants were asked to rate, using a Likert
and findings that merit replication in the area of format, the degree to which they experienced
dissociation and offending. The present altered body image, altered time perception,
investigation was constructed to assess a few of amnesia, an out of body experience, derealization,
these assumptions that have support in the victim and depersonalization (i.e., 0 = no; 1 = a little bit; 2
literature and to replicate other under-investigated = definitely). For the purposes of this study, one
findings in the offender literature. The study had question was removed (i.e., Did you get the
the following main objectives: (a) to examine the feeling that something that was happening to
rates of state and trait dissociation in offenders; (b) someone else was happening to you?) because it
to investigate the association between state and trait was deemed confusing by participants in past
dissociation; (c) to assess the rate of claims of research (Cooper, 1999). Thus, in the present study,
amnesia for offences; and (d) to examine the PDEQ scores could range from 0 to 18, with higher
association between dissociation and amnesia in scores representing higher peritraumatic
offenders. The two secondary objectives were to (a) dissociation. PDEQ scores have been shown to be
to examine the variables associated with the field- significantly related to DES scores and to PTSD
observer perspective distinction; and (b) to examine symptoms (Marmar et al., 1994). The PDEQ is
the construct validity of a relatively new measure of routinely used a measure of state dissociation in
trait dissociation, the MID (Dell, 2000). both research and clinical practice and has sound
psychometric properties (e.g., internal consistency
ranging from .75-.85; test-retest reliability of .85;
METHOD intraclass correlation coefficient of .85; Marshall et
al., 2002).
Participants Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES). The
second edition of the DES (Carlson & Putnam,
Fifty male offenders who were incarcerated at 1993) is a 28-item self-report inventory of trait
Mountain Institution, a medium- security Canadian dissociation that yields a mean score of 0-100. The
Federal Penitentiary located in Agassiz, British instructions for the DES specify that the questions
Columbia, Canada, participated in the study pertain only to times when the person was not
between May and August 2001. Mountain under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The
Institution is a protective custody prison which DES reliably distinguishes between normal adults,
houses a disproportionate number of offenders those with PTSD, and those with Dissociative
convicted of sexual crimes. The offenders mean Identity Disorder (DID; Bernstein & Putnam,
age was 35.02 (SD = 9.16; range = 21-56). Sixty- 1986). Test-retest reliability, internal reliability,
eight percent were Caucasian, 12% were construct validity (e.g., discriminative, convergent,
Aboriginal, and 2% were Asian. The remainder and criterion), and other psychometric properties
claimed to be a mixture of ethnic groups. The are excellent (Carlson & Putnam, 1993; van
present mean age and ethnic background is IJzendoorn & Schuengel, 1996). Since 1998, the
consistent with other research in Canadian federal DES had been used in over 250 published articles
penitentiaries (e.g., Cooper & Yuille, in press-a). (Carlson, Armstrong, Loewenstein, & Roth, 1998).
Participants reported a mean of 11.61 (SD = 9.16; The Multidimensional Inventory of Dissociation
range = 1-26) years of education. Their index (MID). The MID 4.0 (Dell, 2000) is a 259-item
offences (i.e., their most recent offences) were self-report measure of trait dissociation.
classified as violent (52%; e.g., murder, Participants respond to each question on a 10-point

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Dissociation and Amnesia

Likert scale. As with the DES, participants in the related to their sentence management. The second
present study were instructed that the questions author collected the data in the psychology
pertain only to times when they were not under the department at Mountain institution. The majority of
influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The 13 primary the participants completed the study individually
scales of the MID measure specific dimensions of with little to no assistance from the second author.
dissociation: memory problems, depersonalization, However, on the rare occasion, two or three
derealization, flashbacks, somatoform dissociation, participants completed the study simultaneously in
trance, identity confusion, voices, ego alien different areas of the psychology department.
experiences, self-states and alters, self-alteration, Occasionally, participants asked for clarification
discontinuities of time, and disremembered concerning items on the questionnaires. In such
behaviors. Cronbach alpha values for the instances, terms and concepts were fully explained.
dimensions of dissociation in American and Israeli On two occasions, participants claimed to have
samples have been reported to range from .96 to .98 been illiterate and were consequently read the
(Dell, 2000; Somer & Dell, 2005). The MID also questionnaires.
includes five validity scales: defensiveness, The majority of the participants completed the
neurotic suffering, attention seeking behavior, rare MID, the DES, and the PDEQ in one session.
symptoms, and factitious behavior. MID scores Occasionally, a participant completed the study in
have the same 0-100 metric as DES scores, and are two sessions due to an institutional lock-down or
thus easily comparable to DES scores (Dell, 2001; another institutional related interruption (e.g.,
Lauterbach, Somer, & Dell, 2001). Mean scores on count, meals). The administration of the scales was
the MID have been shown to be highly correlated counterbalanced into a Latin square design to
with mean scores on the DES (r = .85-.94; Dell, prevent an ordering effect. Upon completion of the
2000; Somer & Dell, 2005; Somer, Dell, & PDEQ, participants were asked if they were under
Levinger, 2001). the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of
the commission of their index offence. Participants
Procedure received a $5 honorarium for their participation.

Participants were recruited through posters, word


of mouth, and by calls to their living units. RESULTS
Participants were informed that the study was about
dissociation and, for those that enquired, a brief Rates of Dissociation
description of the construct of dissociation was
provided. They were assured of confidentiality and Participants mean scores on the MID, the DES,
were informed that participation was completely and the PDEQ are provided in Table 1.
voluntary and would in no way affect anything

Table 1
Rates of Dissociation

Scale Means
X SD Range
MID 9.76 11.73 0-55
DES 10.92 10.35 0-37.5
PDEQ 6.50 5.89 0-18

Relationships Between Trait and State Dissociation

As illustrated in Table 2, total scores on all


three measures were significantly correlated
(Pearson 2-tailed correlations were conducted).

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Table 2
Relationships between State and Trait Dissociation

State and Trait Dissociation


PDEQ DES MID
PDEQ --- --- ---
.52*
DES --- ---

.31**
MID .76* ---
* p < .01 ** p < .05

Dissociation and Amnesia 17) of the participants reported having amnesia for
at least parts of their reported offences. When the
Question number 8 on the PDEQ was used to assess amnesic group was compared to the non-amnesic
for amnesia for the offenders offences (i.e., Were group, their PDEQ scores for item 8 were removed
you surprised to find out after the event that a lot of from the total PDEQ scores as to not artificially
things happened at the time that you were not aware inflate the associations between amnesia and state
of, especially things that you felt you ordinarily dissociation.
would have noticed?). Participants were As Table 3 illustrates, participants who reported
dichotomized based on their answers to this amnesia for their index offences reported
question. That is, participants who reported significantly higher levels of state dissociation than
definitely on this item were considered to have those who did not report amnesia (t[48] = 5.67, p <
reported amnesia. Using this definition, 34% (n= 0.001).

Table 3
State Dissociation (PDEQ) and Amnesia

State Dissociation
X SD N
No
3.27 3.60 33
Amnesia
Amnesia *10.29 5.08 17
* p < .001

As shown in Table 4, in comparison to participants higher levels of trait dissociation on the DES but
who did not report amnesia for their index offenses, not on the MID (DES: t[48] = 2.10, p < .05; MID:
those who reported amnesia had significantly t[19.72] = 1.64, p > .10).

Table 4
Trait Dissociation and Amnesia

Trait Dissociation (MID) Trait Dissociation (DES)


X SD N X SD n
No 7.72
7.42 33 8.80 9.06 33
Amnesia
Amnesia 14.30 16.41 17 *15.03 11.71 17
* p < .05

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Field vs. Observer Perspectives: State and Trait observer perspective during their index offences.
Dissociation Using this definition, 10% (n= 5) of the participants
reported an observer perspective during their
PDEQ Item 5 asked participants (regarding their reported offences. When the observer group was
index offence), Were there moments when you felt compared to the field group concerning state
as though you were a spectator watching what was dissociation, their PDEQ scores for item 5 were
happening to you-for example, did you feel as if removed from the total PDEQ scores as to not
you were floating above the scene or observing as artificially inflate the relationship between observer
an outsider? Based on their responses to this item, perspectives and state dissociation.
participants were dichotomized as either having a As illustrated in Table 5, participants who took
field perspective (i.e., perceiving through ones an observer perspective at the time of their index
own eyes) or an observer perspective (i.e., offences had significantly higher levels of state
perceiving oneself from an outside vantage point). dissociation (PDEQ) than those who took a field
Participants who indicated definitely on this item perspective (t[12.04] = 8.99, p < .001).
were considered to have reportedly taken an

Table 5
Field-Observer Perspectives: State and Trait Dissociation

Field-Observer Perspectives

Observer (n = 5) Field (n = 45)

X SD X SD

MID 16.58 13.47 9.00 11.44

DES 17.21 11.74 10.22 10.09

PDEQ 14.80* 1.79 5.20 4.75

* p < .001

As shown in Table 5, participants with observer happening seem unreal to you, as though you were
perspectives at the time of their index offences did in a dream or watching a movie or a play?)
not have significantly higher levels of trait assessed for state derealization. As indicated above,
dissociation as indexed by their DES scores (t[48] the MID has a depersonalization scale (12 items)
= 1.50, p > .10) and their MID scores (t[48] = 1.38, and a derealization scale (12 items). Within
p > .10). measures (i.e., PDEQ and MID) depersonalization
and derealization were significantly correlated (i.e.,
The Construct Validity of the MID 2-tailed Pearson correlations) with each other
(PDEQ: r = .48, p < .01; MID: r = .90, p < .01).
Depersonalization and Derealization Further, MID trait depersonalization was
significantly correlated with PDEQ state
PDEQ Item 6 (i.e., Were there moments when depersonalization (r = .53, p < .01). However, MID
your sense of your own body seemed distorted or trait derealization was not significantly correlated
changed-that is, did you feel yourself to be with PDEQ state derealization (r = .20, p >.05).
unusually large or small, or did your feel
disconnected from your body?) assessed for state Amnesia
depersonalization at the time of the participants As indicated earlier, question 8 on the PDEQ was
index offences. PDEQ Item 4 (i.e., Did what was used as an index of amnesia for the participants

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Cooper, B.S., Cuttler, C., Dell, P., and Yuille, J.C.

index offences. As stated above, the MID has a alcohol/drugs at the time of their offences (68%),
memory problems scale (12 items) and a post hoc analyses examined levels of state
disremembered behavior/actions scale (12 items). dissociation by type of index offence and by
Scores on these two MID scales were significantly reported alcohol/drug use at the time of their
correlated with each other (r = .50, p < .01). PDEQ offences. Analyses also investigated the percentage
Item 8 and the MID disremembered of amnestic participants who were under the
behavior/actions scale were not significantly influence of an intoxicant at the time of their
correlated (r = .20, p > .05). Similarly, the offences.
correlation between PDEQ Item 8 and the MID
memory problems scale was not significant (r = - State Dissociation by Index Offence
.04, p > .05).
As shown in Table 6, state dissociation (PDEQ)
Post Hoc Analyses levels did not differ by the nature of the
participants index offences (F[3, 46] = .90, p >
As the sample reported a variety of index offences .50).
and a considerable percentage of the participants
claimed to have been under the influence of

Table 6
State Dissociation (PDEQ) by Index Offence

State Dissociation
X SD Range
Property
6.17 5.81 0-16
(n= 6)
Violent
7.65 6.49 0-18
(n= 26)
Sexual
4.53 4.61 0-15
(n = 15)
Other
7.00 6.56 0-14
(n = 3)

Drug/Alcohol Use and State Dissociation than those who were not under the influence (n =
16; F[1, 48] = 8.60, p < .01). It was also revealed
As indicated above, 68% (n = 34) of the that 15 out of the 17 participants (88%) who
participants reported they were under the influence reported amnesia for their index offences were
of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the under the influence of an intoxicant during their
commission of their index offences. As illustrated offences.
in Table 7, participants who were under the
influence had significantly higher PDEQ scores

Table 7
Drug/Alcohol use and State Dissociation

State Dissociation
N X PDEQ SD
Under the
34 8.06* 6.20
Influence

Not Under the 16 3.19 3.37


Influence
* p < .01

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Dissociation and Amnesia

DISCUSSION with their reported levels of trait dissociation. That


is, PDEQ scores (state dissociation) were
The present study was conducted to explore significantly correlated with both DES scores and
dissociative and related phenomenon in a sample of MID scores (trait dissociation). These findings are
offenders. We had four primary objectives. First, congruent with the reported associations between
we examined the reported rates of dissociation in state and trait dissociation among victims of trauma
offenders. Second, we assessed the association (Hunter & Andrews, 2000; Marmar et al., 1994)
between state and trait dissociation. Third, reported and with offenders of crime (McLeod et al., 2004;
rates of amnesia were examined and, fourth, the Simoneti et al., 2000). Issues of retrospective
association between amnesia and dissociation was reporting of dissociative symptoms aside (see
assessed. In addition we had two secondary Candel & Merckelbach, 2004), theoretically, these
objectives. These were to examine the variables findings suggest a high dissociative disposition may
associated with the field-observer perspective and facilitate the development of state dissociative
to assess the construct validity of the MID. symptoms during a specific event. Of course, the
With respect to our first objective, participants in findings could also suggest state dissociation leads
the present study reported lower levels of DES trait to trait dissociation or there is a third variable
dissociation (10.92) than have been found in other related to both. These findings must be viewed with
studies with sexual offenders (i.e., 24.9; Ellason & caution, however, because offence specific (state)
Ross, 1999) and with mixed (i.e., violent and non dissociation occurred more frequently in
violent) samples of offenders (i.e., 19.1; McLeod et participants who were under the influence of drugs
al., 2004). The participants reported rate of trait and/or alcohol at the time of their offences.
dissociation is slightly higher than what has been Similarly, a high percentage of participants who
typically found in the general adult population (3.7 reported amnesia also claimed to have been under
- 7.8) and is consistent with findings from samples the influence of an intoxicant at the time of their
with anxiety (10.4) and affective disorders (6.0 - offences. Although there was no valid way to assess
12.7; Bernstein-Carlson & Putnam, 1993; van whether the participants were actually intoxicated,
IJzendoorn & Schuengel, 1996). Unfortunately, no their reported levels of both state dissociation and
published research has used the MID with offender amnesia may have been chemically induced.
samples. In terms of state dissociation and Certainly, we cannot claim to have measured only
offending, McLeod et al. reported substantially pure state dissociation and non-organic amnesia.
higher PDEQ scores in their sample of violent However, alcohol and drugs are quite commonly
(15.2) and non-violent offenders (16.4) than what ingested before the commission of crimes
was demonstrated in the present investigation (Lightfoot, 1995; Pyszora et al., 2003). Indeed,
(6.50). These differences partially reflect Franklin, Allison, and Sutton (1992) reported that
methodological issues as McLeod et al. used the 54% of a sample of 13,666 American inmates (aged
revised version of the PDEQ and we used the 14-87) reported being under the influence of a
original version and deleted an item. Note, substance during the commission of violent crimes.
however, that the original version of the PDEQ has Similarly, Kouri, Pope, Powell, Oliva, and
been used in research with victims of crime and Campbell (1997) illustrated that 58% of their
trauma and the present mean rate of state sample of 133 offenders reported being intoxicated
dissociation is considerably lower than what has during their index offences and an additional 6%
been reported in these studies. For example, in indicated that they were experiencing withdrawal
Cooper, Kennedy, and Yuilles (1999) research symptoms. The present rate of participants who
with prostitutes, the participants reported mean reported being under the influence (68%) is
PDEQ scores of 12.3 and 11.3 in relation to sexual slightly higher in the present study but remains
and non-sexual traumatic experiences, respectively. comparable to these estimates. Future studies
As well, the prostitutes reported a mean PDEQ should assess for state dissociation and amnesia in
score of 6.4 in relation to positively valenced equal samples of intoxicated and non-intoxicated
experiences. The present participants reports of participants in order to separate pure state
state dissociation are in line with this latter figure dissociation from chemically induced dissociation
and suggest the average participant in the present and dissociative amnesia from organic amnesia.
study did not report an elevated level of state Our third primary objective was to examine the
dissociation during his index offence. reported rates of amnesia for offenders index
In terms of our next primary objective, we offense(s). Consistent with the literature on victims
showed the occurrence of dissociative symptoms (Mechanic et al., 1998) and perpetrators of crime
during participants criminal actions was associated (Gudjonsson, Hannesdottir, & Petursson, 1999;

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Cooper, B.S., Cuttler, C., Dell, P., and Yuille, J.C.

Parwatikar Holcomb, & Menninger, 1985), we forensic clinicians should not rely solely on the
showed that a considerable minority of participants results of self-report inventories in the
claimed to have experienced amnesia for at least determination of the validity of claims of state
parts of their reported crimes. The reported rate of dissociation, amnesia, and observer perspectives.
amnesia found in the current study (34%) is in line However, the present findings should encourage
with the rates reported in previous research with researchers to use converging, multi-modal
offenders (25-45%; Cima et al., 2002; Kopelman, approaches (e.g., clinical interviews, self-report
1987; Pyszora et al., 2003) and victims of crime testing, examination of background and collateral
(37-44%; Darves-Bornoz, 1997; Elliott & Briere, information) to rule out the possibility of
1995; Mechanic et al., 1998). It is also comparable malingering/deception (Cima et al., 2002; Cooper
to reported rates of amnesia for ordinary but & Yuille, in press-a).
nevertheless significant life experiences (e.g., high Finally, our findings add to the construct
school graduation, summer camp) in the general validity of the MID. Consistent with other research
population (28-60%; Read, 1997; Read & Lindsay, (e.g., Somer & Dell, 2005), MID scores correlated
2000). Thus, there are converging lines of evidence strongly with scores on the DES, the gold standard
from a variety of different samples that suggest self-report measure of trait dissociation. MID
amnesia for significant life experiences (e.g., scores were also significantly correlated with scores
criminal acts) is not uncommon and is typically on the PDEQ, an increasingly used measure of state
illustrated by a base rate of between 25-60%, dissociation. The significant correlation between
depending on the sample studied. scores on the MID depersonalization subscale and
In terms of our fourth main objective, in line scores on the relevant item on the PDEQ (which
with studies of victims of crime (Hunters & taps depersonalization) further supports the
Andrews, 2000; Mechanic et al., 1998) and construct validity of the MID. Although this was
offenders (Cooper et al., 2003), we showed that the first study to use the MID on a correctional
participants who reported amnesia had higher levels sample, if robust construct validity is found through
of both state and trait dissociation than those that future research, the MID may be a useful tool for
did not report amnesia. These findings have both both researchers and practitioners in the forensic
theoretical and practical importance. Theoretically, context, as it contains subscales that assess different
these findings add to a bourgeoning body of dissociative phenomena. Further, the MID also
literature that suggests dissociative processes contains validity subscales that may prove to have
negatively affect the processing and recall of utility in the forensic context. The small sample
criminal/traumatic events (Foa & Hearst-Ikeda, size in the present investigation and a lack of an
1996; van der Kolk & van der Hart, 1989). external measure of malingering precluded an
Practically, these findings suggest that, when examination of the usefulness of these validity
memory distortions are an issue in the forensic subscales.
context, the witness in question (i.e., perpetrator, In addition to the possibility of chemically
victim, bystander) should be assessed for symptoms induced dissociation and amnesia, the lack of an
of both state and trait dissociation. It is important to external measure of malingering, and a small
note that, as others have suggested, there is no sample, the present study was limited by its
direct association between dissociation and amnesia retrospective nature and non-random selection
(McLeod et al., 2004). That is, some individuals process. As state and trait dissociation were
dissociate during events but do not report amnesia. assessed at the same point in time, it is not possible
Our results simply suggest that, at times, to establish a causal relationship. In fact, as alluded
dissociation can be a factor related to amnesia. to earlier, it is possible that a highly dissociative
Clearly, research is needed to investigate the disposition might have influenced retrospective
variables in which dissociation leads to amnesia reports of state dissociative symptoms. Alternately,
and in which it leads to detailed recollections. participants may have developed a dissociative
With regards to our secondary objectives, our disposition subsequent to committing their index
findings related to the field-observer perspective offenses. This latter explanation is, however,
distinction support previous research. As with somewhat less probable as both the DES and the
Cooper et al.s (2002) research with prostitutes, in MID assess for lifetime dissociative experiences.
the present investigation, participants who Prospective studies with randomly selected
reportedly took observer perspectives during the participants and larger samples would increase the
commission of their index offences had generalizability of these findings and would better
significantly higher levels of state dissociation than afford an investigation of causal relationships
participants who took field perspectives. Of course, between state and trait dissociation.

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Dissociation and Amnesia

The present study is also limited by its failure to PTSD symptoms as the victim literature suggests
assess for psychopathy. Considering that criminal (Griffin et al., 1997; Mechanic et al., 1998).
psychopaths constitute approximately 15-25% of Concerning treatment, offenders with high
incarcerated North American correctional samples dissociative dispositions and/or unresolved traumas
(Hare, 1991) and have a unique affective deficit may benefit from treatment strategies that focus on
(Abbott, 2001; Blackburn, 1979; Cleckley, 1941; these issues (Ellason & Ross, 2000; Dietrich,
Hare, 1993; Patrick, 1994), it may be the case that 2003). Indeed, considering the level of traumatic
psychopathic offenders are less prone to dissociate experiences in the offender population (Briggs &
and/or develop amnesia than are other offenders Hawkins, 1996; McElroy et al., 1999; Romano &
(Porter et al., 2001). If so, dissociative symptoms De Luca, 1997), and given the link between
and claims of amnesia might be more common in dissociation and PTSD (Bernat et al., 1998;
the correctional population when psychopaths are Cardea et al., 1998; Liebowitz et al., 1998),
removed from the data pool. Conversely, offenders with trauma histories, dissociative
considering the fact that psychopaths regularly symptoms, and/or PTSD, may benefit from
engage in deception (Cooper & Yuille, in press-b; rehabilitation efforts that converge on these areas.
Peticlerc, Herv, Hare, & Spidel, 2000; Seto,
Khattar, Lalumi, & Quinsey, 1997), psychopaths
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